There is no "I" in "Group."

“Group project.”

These two words strike fear into the hearts of parents and students everywhere. Visions trigger parental PTSD-flashbacks to late nights spent waiting in line in the only aisle still open in Wal-Mart, the only store still open, in order to buy more hot glue sticks, press on letters, or glitter.

These two words cause teachers to dread the incoming tide of notes, phone calls, and email from parents explaining how their Little Angel cannot possibly be involved in the group project because, (don’t I understand?)

A.) Little Angel’s participation is critical to ________ (insert name of travel sports team,  choir, band, or theatrical production), and all of his/her extra time is spent on said activity.

B.) Little Angel does not want to work with __________(insert name of other student) and would be much happier working with his/her best friends.

Why, then, do I create and assign group projects? Think about it. Professional life is chock full of group projects. I have never had an employer tell me, “I want this to be completely your own work. Do not ask others for input, especially if they happen to have skills which you don’t.” Such ludicrous logic would limit the scope of our projects to the skills of an individual instead of tapping the much richer resources of a team. By collaborating, each member brings insight and experience to the project which promotes a more excellent final product. As school provides practice for professional life, (one of the main points of the Common Core State Standards,) students need to develop proficiency in group work. The strongest groups often come from combining students who might not be best friends.  I usually establish groups based upon students’ strengths. For example, I will team up a creative, critical thinker with a detail-oriented student who loves research and another child who has the rare and beautiful gift of organization and time management. The combination of these three divergent skill sets opens the door for students to create an extremely successful product.

I do realize group projects can inconvenience parents. I make a special effort to inform all parents via email of my expectations and deadlines several weeks before the final project is due. I also encourage students to remind their parents several days in advance if they will need materials or meet-ups with other students. In professional life, collaboration with colleagues requires similar schedule-juggling. Once again, group projects prepare students for one of life’s inconvenient truths-schedules don’t always mesh, and sometimes we need to shuffle our activities to make a project work.

The Harvard.edu website posts the following advice to their faculty regarding group work. (I am in good company!):

Some reasons to ask students to work in groups

Asking students to work in small groups allows students to learn interactively. Small groups are good for:

  • generating a broad array of possible alternative points of view or solutions to a problem

  • giving students a chance to work on a project that is too large or complex for an individual

  • allowing students with different backgrounds to bring their special knowledge, experience, or skills to a project, and to explain their orientation to others

  • giving students a chance to teach each other

  • giving students a structured experience so they can practice skills applicable to professional situations

Some benefits of working in groups (even for short periods of time in class)

  • Students who have difficulty talking in class may speak in a small group.

  • More students, overall, have a chance to participate in class.

  • Talking in groups can help overcome the anonymity and passivity of a large class or a class meeting in a poorly designed room.

  • Students who expect to participate actively prepare better for class. (www.harvard.edu)

I stand by the value of group projects, especially when groups students learn to gel as a team.  The “Group” aspect is just as important, maybe more so, than the “project” itself.